Congratulations Josh Ray!Well, well, well… Looks like Josh has finally made good on his promise to conquer the Hi-Fi space… From all of us here at SonicFlare (naturally, that would be me, myself and I), we congratulate Josh on his new endeavor and wish him the best of success! If anyone is up for the task, it is Josh…
Stay tuned for more news on SonicFlare and the direction we will be taking…
Urban Fidelity Art Speakers
Greetings friends, as some of you may know, I've started a speaker company called Urban Fidelity. My mission with Urban Fidelity is to bring the next generation to hi-fi, one pair of speakers at a time.
Skullcandy and Beats by Dre have incited a revolution in the headphone market. Full-size headphones are booming like never before, much to the delight of Sennheiser, Grado, and many new headphone companies. Additionally, DJ culture is exploding, getting front-of-store placement in Best Buy while iPhone docks and computer speakers are only growing in popularity. Every single audio related category is seeing legendary growth.
...except home stereo. Loudspeakers are relegated to the darkest corner of Best Buy, and that's only if the Best Buy has a Magnolia speaker closet. Otherwise the speakers are crammed on a metal display shelf. And forget actually auditioning the speakers. While B&W, Martin Logan, Vienna, and a handful of others find their ways into non-audiophile living rooms, the majority of listeners don't even know there's a world beyond Bose.
I want to change all that. Urban Fidelity is my vision for making inroads with the non-audiophiles. For new audio consumers, the most important quality is livability -- can I stand to have this speaker in my living room? If the answer is not just "yes, I can stand it" but "yes, I want it" then we're on the right track. That's why I've chosen to make Urban Fidelity speakers a platform for fresh indie artwork.
With Urban Fidelity, I hope to whet people's appetites for hi-fi and then send them up the food chain to find (and buy) larger, better, more expensive audio systems. We'll recommend to our customers amplifiers, turntables, and, yes, even other speakers. Just like Skullcandy has boosted Grado's business, I hope, with any success, Urban Fidelity can get consumers interested in the rest of hi-fi. With any luck, they'll buy magazines, visit dealerships and check out the audio shows.
Since I've made the jump from journalist to manufacturer, SonicFlare will now become the domain of the illustrious Danny Kaey. Danny has a number of excited ideas and I can't wait to see him take SonicFlare in a new direction.
Review: B&W Zeppelin
Review: Role Audio Sampan FTL
At the start of my monitor quest, I assumed I wanted all the qualities of my VMPS RM40 behemoths, things such as extreme transparency, unlimited dynamics, the ability to really energize the air with sound -- but in a smaller package (see my bio for elaboration of my tastes). Well, I still do. However, the 22K Magico notwithstanding, there are tradeoffs to going small. After listening to a ton of monitors over the last year, what’s been reinforced is what I knew at that seminal moment I became an audiophile, this over twenty years ago -- the bottom line is engagement. Like the first minute of a first date, you know it immediately...
Vegas07 Hemp Acoustics
There's a new player trying to break into the high end speaker driver scene. If speaker drivers are to speakers what engines are to sports cars, then Hemp Acoustics is gunning to be the Saleen of audio. Or maybe Mercedes, providing lux engines all the way up to 700hp.
In any case, Hemp Acoustics has merged with Adire, makers of massive subwoofer drivers with obscene excursion and the much hyped XBL2 motor structure. Adire will now become an automotive-only brand while Hemp Acoustics takes over the audiophile market. While the majority of Hemp Acoustics' speakers will be made out of hemp, they'll still have a few offerings (like their Extremis 6.8) made out of traditional materials.
As you can see from the picture above, HA already has a wide range of drivers. How wide? "We're going to have BETTER versions of all the hot drivers on the market." "Scan Speak Revelator? (the slit cone tennis ball driver)" "Yup, but better." "Fostex whizzers?" "Yup." "The OB king Visaton B200?" "We'll crush 'em." "Coax compression hi-eff?" "Oh yeah." "High qts, open-baffle subwoofer?" "You got it." "Coaxial beryllium cone with ion tweeter?" "Okay, you're weird."
Hemp Acoustics is also tackling lots of really unusual drivers for the DIY scene. Below is the picture of their 15" coax driver. Low excursion with high sensitivity and big power handling. And check out that machined tweeter horn and monster magnet. Wild stuff and wildly expensive at $1200.
On the next page, their $299 open baffle specific 15" driver with Qts of .68 (I believe), their XBL2 motor and low excursion surround. OB sub drivers have become all the rage these days and HA wants to be the preeminent manufacturer.
Momma Said WTF
German retro design house Claassen & Partner has released their MYKYO (Momma Said Knock You Out) sound system. Here's the product lit:
"MSKYO IS A REMINISENCE TO THE GOOD OLD GHETTO BLASTER. IN THE
GOOD OLD GRANNY TROLLEY A NEW INNOVATIVE ROLL AROUND SOUNDSYSTEM
WHICH HAS NOT ONLY SHOWN INCREDIBLE SOUND QUALITIES IN A VERIETY OF
LOCATIONS, BUT ALSO ATTRACTED A LOT OF ATTENTION. ORDER YOUR OWN
MSKYO WITH US AND EXPERIENCE THE SOUND WALKS. FOR MORE INFORMATION
GET IN TOUCH!"
I want to "experience the sound walks"! So what is the damn thing? It looks like they stuffed an Eminence Beta coaxial driver or full-range wizzerrific driver into grandma's old linen grocery cart. It's unclear if there's an amp inside or your need to BYOA.
Of course, you can build your own concert on wheels with some cheap pro drivers from Parts Express. Since the sensitivity on pro drivers is so damn high, you can blast insane dbs with a little battery powered Sonic Impact T-Amp. Go for a coaxial driver with a built-in crossover and you'll be rocking your next bridge tournament with just some bare wire and a screw gun! (news via Gizmodo)
The Chinese Tragedy
Ah, China. The American audio industry has been facing stiff competition from a seemingly never-ending supply of Chinese high-end import products. While American audiophiles and normal consumers are weary of Chinese brand names, a number of companies have taken to rebranding the best of China and offering them up to American consumers as "the next hot thing."
Witness the V.A.L. i5 Vacuum tube speaker system. A little 6V6 tube sits in the place of honor (the input stage) and sends a signal to a series of low-power digital amps that feed the little full range speakers and a subwoofer. So what's the deal? Click "read full article" to see all the variations using this exact design. The companies offering these new products are SonicGear with their iSteroid, Quest for Sound's iPod Partner and Gini's iTube. Notice the subtle differences? Different colors, different features, different prices (from $100 up to $350 or so).
The irony is that this thing sounds great. No, really. I had a chance to play around with one of these and it really does sound startling good, despite the price tag of a few hundred bucks. How so? My only guess can be the plastic single driver covering from 110Hz on up. If you're familiar with the famed Jordan full range mini drivers, these plastic cones from China work the same way -- spread them way apart, toe them way in, crank them way up and get hit with that single driver Jordan sound (otherwise, it sounds terrible). Paired with the little digital amp and the tube buffer stage, this little thing is good, scary good...
The other player in the clones wars is Dared. I have also had a chance to play around with the little Dared MP-5 and it's also a killer piece. Again, tubes in the input stage and tiny digital amps (like Tripath, supposedly) providing the juice. Really nice build quality and all the shiny chrome you can handle. Put this next to any Bose POS and the Dared will sell hands down, every time, for less money. The Dared amp should have taken off. But what happened?
Dared's own American importer botched the launch. Their website ranked among the worst in audio. So for people looking to jump from Bose to tubes, they were met with a marketing tragedy. And that's when the Dared parent company began selling MP-5s sans labels. Fatman, a brit company, slapped their own label on the Dared piece, calling it the iTube (sound familiar?). Sound By Singer out of New York City is calling his identical version the Sonic Integrity. And now there's Vuum. Again, nothing new, just a different label. Oh, and eyeTEK in Germany. Is a Kazakhstani version forthcoming? One can only hope.
So four companies all competing with the same products in the same market. Singer has the highest price at $1000 for the set (audiophile gouging?) with the others coming it at around $700. Then again, I wrote about an auction selling the Dared amps for just $179. Ouch.
The sad part is main stream sites like Gizmodo and iLounge are writing about these products and absolutely slaughtering them. Or, I should say, they post the raw news and the readers go "hey, I've seen that before! It's a knock off! Boo!" And that's when the pitchforks come out and the American market rejects the products outright.
Alas, both these products are damn good (with the usual price/setup caveats). The vacuum tube does, through its little distortion magic act, clean up some of the digital glare of MP3s, so it's not all marketing BS about tubes at this price level. It's a shame, really, that what could have been legitimate convergence products have instead become Chinese alphabet soup.
I do hold out hope, however, that this new generation of trickle-down high-end products draw more and more attention to hi-fi. Seems people are becoming interested, finally, even if it's still in the freaky products out there. Here's to hoping that someone releases a product with genuine high-end appeal with marketing to match.
Oh, and finally, there's the iClassic below. See those tubes? Can you guess what they are? KT88s? 300Bs (Western Electrics, maybe)? Nope, they're faux tubes but they glow like the real thing! Yup, the iClassic is basically a iPod dock/clock radio with fake tubes and real speakers. $180 to lose your audio soul.
Me, I'm hoping for stick-on tubes from China. You know, a little battery inside with adhesive on the bottom. Then everything can be tube powered! DVD player, plasma TV, four-slice toaster, toilet, dog, wife. It's a brave new world.
Bose Companion 5
Stop the press! Newsflash! … I’ve been Bose’d! Yep, I’m coming out of the closet – the recently released $399 Bose Companion 5 multimedia speaker system is really, really neat. So just like you, Joe and Schmoe, I couldn’t help but notice all the new ads for this little desktop computer speaker system – though of course I was thinking it’s the typical Bose marketing coy. Armed with a genuine intention to get to the bottom of this, I went to a local Bose retail demo store and figured I’d give this little thing a fair shot.
Low and behold, I have to say this system ROCKS! I stood there in complete disbelief when genuine surround sound was coming at me from 2 (!) speakers. Bose used several movie scenes to demonstrate this effect -- most notably Tim Allen’s Santa Clause 2 -- in the scene you see him move from the center of the screen behind you! While not quite at the level of a dedicated 5.1 surround system, no doubt, most of the content was cherry picked as it probably worked best within the limitations, it never the less offered a fine experience. I for one am not all too happy about having 5 separate speakers, wires and stands towering next to me at my computer desk… I requested a review sample, hopefully Bose will accept.
The Sub $1000 Spotlight
From the inbox:
Friend's son wants college system--$750-$1k. Just
input for iPod/amp and speakers. Mostly classical
Any ideas? I'm not that up on things with docks...
Thanks for your help!
No need to look at iPod speaker systems, Bill, your friend's son can join the hi-fi party with no compromises whatsoever! Here are three respected systems built with high-performance goals that will crush any Bose system or iPod dock/speaker hybrid.
First up, the classic Epos ELS3 speakers with the Cambridge Audio 340A or 540A integrated amplifiers. $329 a pair for these tiny British legends, they've won just about every award out there. As for Cambridge Audio, don't confuse these guys with Cambridge Soundworks, the american plastic speaker company. Cambridge Audio is Brit all the way and their 340A and 540A integrated amps have won almost as many awards as Epos. $299 and $399 for the products respectively, throw in some cables and you have yourself a classic little hi-fi system. Here in the states, Epos is distributed by Music Hall who also distributes Creek, another legendary Brit brand. Though more expensive, you'll see Epos and Creek packaged together all over the place. Even better, these guys have large distribution so finding these goods isn't that hard.
Next up is an underground sensation from Omega Audio and Red Wine. Packed as a combo for $788 (sans cables), you get Omega's signature single driver sound with Red Wine audio's Clari-T amp, an unusual Tripath-based battery-powered 6 watt monster. These guys blew up the audiophile underground scene for their wicked sound and cheap prices. Omega is also known as that hemp speaker company, using full range drivers made out of the royal herb. Omega also makes the Super 3 V2 and XRS speakers at $649 and $849, respectively. Like all Omegas, these speakers are sensitive enough to only need a few watts, making them perfect for the legendary $30 Sonic Impact t-amp. Same chip as the Red Wine Clari-T but in bare bones version, the SI had nearly everyone in audio running for their soldering irons and getting their frankenstein on.
Anthony Gallo is the guy who put good sound in lifestyle speakers. His top speaker the $2600 Reference 3 ruled the review scene for quite some time and his little speakers are even more famous in the too-cool-for-normal-speaker crowd. The Mirco Ti Speakers start at $400 a pair and the slightly larger A'Divas go for $550. Of course, since they're little orbs, the bass only gets down to around 75Hz on its best day. The speakers include little rubber rings so you can place these guys on your desk or bookshelf. One custom home theater consultant I know hangs A'Divas for side and rear surrounds and recently used A'Divas at a restaurant to create halos of sound around dining tables. Pair these guys with a good integrated like an NAD and you're set.
As for accessories, many companies include their own cables that can sound fine. When buying your own wire, you don't need to spend a fortune as long as you don't skimp and get a spool from Radio Shack. Ask your retailer/manufacturer what cables to buy. Also, Blue Tac from your office supply store is a necessity to keep your speakers stuck to your stands/shelves and to prevent them from rattling around. Speaking of stands, heavier is better. If your stands use hollow tubes, you can fill them with sand to make them even more inert and keep the metal from ringing in tune with your music.
For those of you new to hi-fi who are staring in horror at the low watt numbers listed on this site, you need to know that bigger isn't always better. The electronic giants play the watt game, pushing huge power to the detriment of quality. Power isn't everything and many of the best amps in the world don't have anywhere near the advertised juice of those plastic beasts at Best Buy with 1000+ watts. A few good watts into excellent speakers will be sonically superior to massive junk watts and plastic speakers.
Sangria Sound System
From the seventh circle of home theater hell comes the Sangria Sound System. Sangria, in case you're not familiar with this taste beverage, is the Spanish Mimosa. Instead of champagne, cheap wine is thrown in a bottle with fruit, sugar and other random ingredients fermenting in your pantry. Let it chill and voila! Alcohol makes everything sound better.
As you can see, the Sangria Sound System has non-parallel side walls and a special porting mechanism. And, yes, that's a subwoofer on the floor there. In truth, this is more funky conceptual art than, say, a ridiculous attempt at food-based audio. The designer is Carlo Rossi of fine jug wine fame. He has a number of other art art pieces such as a chardonnay chandelier, cabernet couch and paisano plasma TV stand. Thankfully, Carlo is kind enough to provide us with DIY instructions (PDF) for building one's own alcoholic fantasy. First person to put diamond tweeters in a sangria jug wins a special prize!
(thanks for the tip, Fred!)
B&W Fatboy Slim Speakers
A vision of things to come? You're looking at Mr. Fat Boy Slim himself, holding Bowers and Wilkins DM601 S3 speakers styled after his new greatest hits album Why I Try Harder. B&W has been popping up all over the place with their art-infused speaker creations and may do more for hi-fi than all other companies combined. Slapping a vinyl CD cover on a speaker just makes sense and is sure to get the little groupies drooling. And with so much great album art out there, the possibilities are endless. Me, I want Spinal Tap's Smell the Gloove.
No word on what the speakers will actually go for -- regular DM603s come in at $360/pair -- but the limited edition run is only 100 pairs. Tech specs in case you want to track some of these down are 60-22k Hz, 88dB, 8 ohms.
Pioneer Whiskey Speakers, a Bad TAD Hangover
No one does whiskey like the Japanese (well, except the Scots, Irish, hockey-landers and yanks) so it only makes sense to build speaker cabinets out of 50 year old whiskey barrels from sushi house legend Suntory. $419 gets you Pioneer's new S-A4SPT-VP bookshelves with frequency of 50Hz-40kHz. Seriously, Pioneer, that name. Gimme a call, I'll set ya straight.
The interesting part of the Japanese press release is the claim of "trickle down" technology from TAD and the Pioneer EX speakers, both under the direction of Brit Andrew Jones. We covered the TAD/Pioneer EX explosion at HE2006 so go check it out to see why Pioneer is trotting out the TAD banner to sell novelty speakers. It was one thing for $40k worth of tech from the TAD Model 1 to find its way into the $9k Pioneer EX speakers. But to get $40k worth of tech for $419? It's a new world, folks.
Of course, what would Japanese product releases be without Google translations? Enjoy:
"4th with feature, for the professional brand “TAD (Technical Audio Devices)” technology was thrown."
"...the pure board of the barrel material which makes the playback of the bass whose material feeling is good possible you start shaving the duct adopting."
"...although with the trees and shrubs which are grown at arctic area, you are brought up to diameter 10cm about 60 years the rare pulp which was made from the lumber which has the annual ring where the density which is required is high is used for subject in this pulp. The case where the pulp which possesses this fine cell is processed, you considered to the water which influences the quality sufficiently."
Good times. Interestingly, JVC engineers had a similar epiphany during a drinking binge and created speaker drivers made out of solid wood soaked in sake. Read our coverage. Let's hope this inspires American manufacturers to start getting creative with their cabinets. Let's see...Wild Turkey and Wilson? Jack Daniels and DeVore? Budweiser and Bose? The mind boggles.
Big speaker pic next page. (Thanks, Fred)
If you're unaware, Totem hangs animal skins and tribal masks on their walls at every show. They must be summoning magical wood elves or something because the Totem room rocked. And they always rock. One person hypothesized that Totem speakers work so well in show rooms because they're actually the appropriate size speaker for the room. These gigantic monoliths crammed into tiny rooms create wild reflection problems. But put a pair of bookshelves in a normal room and -- gasp! -- they sound great.
Totem speakers are truly new generation goods. Killer bass from tiny packages and loads of clarity and snap, these guys should be way high on your list if you're not into the traditional audiophile sound. Those super slim floorstanders are the Totem Arro speakers at $1100/pair. The little bookshelves on top of the Arros are the $450/pair Dreamcatchers. Their big speakers, which are smaller than most people's medium sized speakers, go up to around $10k for the Shamans. Lots of cool stuff so check them out.
The White Van of the Apocalypse
Here's the scenario: you're out grocery shopping and minding your own business when, walking back to your car, a white van suddenly pulls up and out jumps two burly men. You think some sort of physical harm will come to you. Did you bring up polarity at Audio Asylum? Whatever flashes through your mind, you think your life is done.
In fact, your life is safe but your audio is not because you've been selected by the Theater Research direct marketing campaign. Yes, the burly men open up the back of the dealership-on-wheels to reveal incredible equipment at unheard of prices! Why, their boss is going out of business or the speakers fell off the truck or they stole them from some grandmother, whatever. The point is that, according to their website and the recent Stereophile ad, the speakers costing upwards of six grand are available to you for a fraction of the price!
Are these those bizarre speakers HP was talking about? Who knows, but the deal is too good to pass up. You get them home and, surprise, they are junk. Then you go on ebay to sell the speakers, thinking you'll at least make your money back if not a nice little profit. But, alas, ebay is already packed with identical models going for pennies. And that's when you raise your fists to the sky and curse the audio gods.
The company is Theater Research (and their alter ego Elite Audio) and white van direct marketing is their gimmick. They're a Chinese company "creatively" styling their "speakers" to look like famous models from B&O, B&W, Krell, NHT, Sony, "Bose" and others. They overprice the speakers on their website and engage in all kinds of marketing fun:
As our world continues its transition to a totally digital environment, TR Theater Research leads the way with pure digital home entertainment products. People who know sound, know "TR Theater Research". It's a name that commands respect because for many years TR Theater Research has consistently set the very highest standards in loud speaker technology development.
The best part? Elite Audio's new Z-3 A/V Receiver has 3000 watts of tube power in "patent pending" technology. That's right, 600 watts into 5 channels of pure tube glory. If you're not familiar with tubes, that's about as big on the BS meter as one can get. Tubes are all about low power and monsters of tube like VTL are able to hit 800-1250 watts with their monoblocks the size of Balkan countries, not slim receivers. Oh, and Elite Audio's Z-3 receiver gets all 3000 watts from just one tube. Judging from the picture in Stereophile, it's General Electric's single-ended incandescent.
I've been visited by the white van and, in truth, it made my day. Never hurts to have a little humor. And, yes, Stereophile does have 8 pages worth of TR ads in their recent issue. The non-audiophile ad department and the reviewing staff at S'Phile don't talk to each other so TR was able to slip through the cracks. Rest-assured TR won't make it into the next issue.
Moral of the story? White vans are for ice cream, not audio. Then again, having a roving audio demo is kinda cool. As someone or other said, the outdoors are gods-own acoustic chamber. Maybe I'm too harsh. Public audio demos may be a great way to reach the new blood. Could TR be the Moses to our industry's promised land???
Atelier First Horn Speakers
New speaker company Atelier comes into the single driver race with their new First Horn speaker for a whole $699. High efficiency for all those low power tube heads looking for a cheap single driver model. Interestingly, Atelier is the offspring of Gemme which produces the $3000 Model 108 (on the right). Same driver, same crossover (none), and similar, though not identical, design and a much lower price. What's the deal?
6Moons Srajan talks about the potential for Atelier swallowing up Gemme's sales, though he draws no definitive conclusions. I agree with the idea of "lite" versions for the underground audiophiles, kinda like the Pass DIY projects and other gremlin companies. Then again, everyone buying single driver speakers is an underground audiophile. But, whatever, the point here is getting a taste of a top level speaker in an affordable package -- the flavor of Grey Poupon at Safeway Select prices, so to speak.
Magico, are you listening? I want some Ultimate Lites for $699. Can ya dig it?